AMONG the many blessings of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation has been the flow of books, helping Anglicans to re-evaluate their view of Martin Luther.
We may be grateful to Graham Tomlin, who, like a wise householder, has brought out of his storehouse things new and old, for this stimulating symposium of nine articles — some from his days as a don at Oxford and as Principal of St Mellitus College, and some from his time as Bishop of Kensington. A judicious selection of five or six of them would make an excellent Lent course.
The book is structured in three sections of three chapters each, starting with Luther’s understanding of the gospel, of Bible translation, and of Paul, going on to show how that understanding led him to transform late-medieval patterns of Christian life such as pilgrimage and prayer, and finally looking in greater detail at the perennially fascinating topics of sex and marriage, the devil, and freedom.
This is no mere disparate collection of unrelated topics; the essays are given an underlying unity and coherence by what Tomlin calls “the simple insight at the heart of Luther’s thought . . . that we are justified, or put right, not by any internal quality we may possess, but by something outside ourselves altogether — the goodness or righteousness of Christ”.
Every chapter has something fresh and engaging to say, and the whole work is infused with a spirit of magnanimity, of trying to understand just why Luther thought this way and expressed himself in these words.
This generosity of spirit, not always evident in Luther studies, extends to Tomlin’s treatment of fellow theologians, notably where he seeks to rescue the great man’s own understanding from the strictures of “the New Perspective on Paul”. This is exemplarily eirenical polemic. There is something to be said for theologians’ being bishops and bishops’ being theologians after all.
The Very Revd Dr John Arnold is President of the Anglican Lutheran Society.
Luther’s Gospel: Reimagining the world
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